New Delhi: The monsoon session of Parliament, which ends on Friday, was expected to write the script of a grand anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance across the country. Instead, the unity plans suffered a major jolt after the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), a key constituent, broke ranks and returned to the folds of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Before the start of the month-long session, the opposition had planned to corner the government on issues of farm distress and incidents of lynching by self-styled cow vigilantes. However, with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar deciding to return to the NDA, the Congress-led opposition parties suffered a major blow.
The ‘grand alliance’ government in Bihar was the first successful experiment by opposition parties to join hands against the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and attempts to replicate that success looked set to flounder.
“The exit of Nitish Kumar from the opposition is a setback, more so because before this session we were talking about a bigger opposition front. However, we think we still have a lot of opposition parties standing together," said a senior Congress leader from Lok Sabha.
Wins scored in the presidential and vice-presidential elections, both of which took place during the monsoon session, also helped the ruling alliance consolidate its position in Parliament, with both the JD(U) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) coming out in its support.
In addition, the session saw the BJP becoming the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha. Senior leaders of the party said that while NDA continues to be in minority in the upper house, the NDA now has a psychological advantage over the opposition parties. The ruling party now has 59 members of Parliament (MPs) in the upper house, and they include BJP president Amit Shah.
The NDA’s strength too went up by 10 with the addition of the JD(U).
“The monsoon session was very important for NDA and specially for the BJP because it is a good start to prepare for the 2019 general elections. The opposition is divided with no clear agenda to target the Union government or to challenge the leadership of the Prime Minister. It is true that Congress managed to win one election and Ahmed Patel was elected, but Congress got divided in Gujarat," said a senior BJP leader.
Senior leaders of the BJP also point out that in the coming 17 months till January 2019, the Congress and BJP would again have a direct clash in assembly elections in six states—Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. “In all these states, there is a direct contest between the BJP and Congress. BJP has a strong organization in all the election-bound states and the Congress leadership is divided," the BJP leader added.
The monsoon session, which began on 17 July, started on a dramatic note with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati resigning from the Rajya Sabha after she was barred from completing an impromptu speech on the issue of anti-Dalit violence in Uttar Pradesh.
The session also marked the end of the Rajya Sabha tenure for Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M). Yechury, who is a two-time member from West Bengal, was not nominated for a third term as per party rules. The absence of Mayawati and Yechury from the Rajya Sabha will hurt the opposition parties, which will miss the two voices that are important on the national stage.
Nevertheless, the confrontation between the BJP and Congress was visible throughout the session as opposition parties tried to corner the government on recent incidents of mob lynching and farm distress.
“The monsoon session was important because we raised a series of issues including mob lynching, Dalit atrocities, farm unrest and flood situation. The government’s non-committal attitude towards the welfare of OBCs (other backward classes) became clear in this session when their MPs were missing during the discussion whereas we got our amendments the National Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill accepted," the Congress leader quoted above said.
The reference was to the embarrassment suffered by the BJP-led NDA in the Rajya Sabha, when the absence of 30 MPs enabled the Congress to push through changes to a constitutional amendment bill for OBCs. The bill is significant for political outreach strategies and was personally piloted by Modi.
Analysts say the evidence on opposition unity from this particular session is mixed.
“The presidential polls dented the opposition’s unity, but on other occasions like the vice-presidential election or even on the floor of the house, the opposition has managed to show a united face," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst associated with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.
Anuja from New Delhi contributed to this story.